Elected community representatives have voted to award themselves “a real terms pay cut” after being warned any increase would be dimly viewed by people struggling to make ends meet during the cost of living crisis.
Following a robust debate at County Hall in Northallerton a strong majority of North Yorkshire Council members approved the recommendation of an Independent Remuneration Panel to increase their annual basic allowances by £1,500 to £17,000.
Councillors also passed an increase of two per cent for members with special responsibilities at the Conservative-led authority.
The Liberal Democrat group voted against the proposals, as did a handful of other opposition members.
A report to the full council meeting stated the panel considered that councillors are not remunerated as employees and their allowance reflect “the
considerable time commitment required for the proper and conscientious fulfilment of duties”.
The panel’s recommendation also took into account reconfiguration of local government in North Yorkshire and the effect that the overall reduction in councillors, from 319 to 90, has had on the workload of those elected to the unitary authority that was launched in April.
The authority’s leader Coun Les said the panel’s recommendations had been generated from the evidence provided by 23 elected members about their workload following the launch of the unitary authority in April.
He said: “I think we have to recognise it is an independent panel and therefore we should accept their recommendations.
“It is vital that nobody is deterred from standing for public office because of financial reasons, however, it is up to individual members to accept all, some or none of the allowances.”
Green councillor Andy Brown told the meeting as the increase was below the rate of inflation the proposals represented “a real terms pay cut”.
He said many people in mid-career “could not afford to do the role”, leading to a significant proportion of the authority’s members being either nearing retirement age or above.
However, Liberal Democrat councillor Felicity Cunliffe Lister told the meeting councillors’ renumeration had been given full consideration last year as part of the move to a unitary authority and that she was unaware of any changes to councillors’ responsibilities or workload since.
She added: “May I remind us all that there is a cost of living crisis. Awarding ourselves a pay rise at this time is indefensible.”
Independent Malton councillor Lindsay Burr said councillors had been aware of the renumeration when they stood for election.
She said: “How with any morals can we stand up today and take this? What sort of a signal are we sending out to the people who go to the free fridges and food banks which have suddenly just arisen.
“We are actually saying as councillors ‘oh pity us because we have got such a lot to do and we think we need more money’.”